George Will

New York's proscribes public assistance to any school "wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination, or in which any denominational tenet or doctrine is taught." Faulkner, however, wants to bring his church's family-support skills to the task of teaching only a secular curriculum. A Baptist, he shares his denomination's traditional suspicion of entangling religion with government. He just wants to increase choice and competition within the city's school system.

Not until about 15 percent of a school district's children are in charter schools do those schools exert pressure to change the way the district functions. Of this city's 1,453 public schools, only 61 are charters. They serve 19,000 of the 1.1 million public school students -- 1.7 percent.

Andy Smarick, writing in Education Next, reports that only 2 percent of America's public school pupils are in charters, which are being opened very slowly -- only 335 a year nationwide, even though the students already on charter waiting lists would fill more than 1,000 schools. At that rate, by 2020 charters will serve only 5 percent of the public school enrollment. One reason for the slow growth is that some school districts, terrified of competition, mount expensive advertising campaigns -- parents' tax dollars at work -- to dissuade parents from choosing charter schools.

Faulkner wants to create a school that will be nimble at overcoming the sort of problems detailed in a recent report written by Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley for the Educational Testing Service. These include:

The out-of-wedlock birth rate among black women under 30 is 77 percent. Only 35 percent of black children live with two parents. By age 4, the average child in a professional family hears about 20 million more words than the average child in a working class family, and about 35 million more than the average child in a welfare family. Only 24 percent of white eighth-graders watch four or more hours of television on an average weekday; 59 percent of their black peers do.

Faulkner, represented by the Gotham Legal Foundation, wants a federal court to declare the Blaine Amendment an unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. He really should ask the legislature to repeal the amendment because it is an unsavory residue of 19th-century bigotry and an obstacle to educational experimentation. Many legislators, however, are on leashes held by teachers unions which, in their grim defense of his retrograde amendment, are appropriate allies of James G. Blaine.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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